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Breaking Down the Ending of A Haunting in Venice—And How it Adapts a Chilling Agatha Christie Novel

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Warning: This post contains spoilers for A Haunting in Venice.

Kenneth Branagh is back as famed detective Hercule Poirot to once again solve a seemingly impossible crime. But this time around, he first has to figure out whether supernatural forces are interfering in the investigation.

Serving as a sequel to 2022's Death on the Nile, A Haunting in Venice follows Poirot as he's lured out of self-imposed exile in post-World War II Italy to attend a Halloween night séance alongside his old friend and renowned mystery writer Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey).

The film, now in theaters, is based on Agatha Christie's 1969 novel Hallowe’en Party, one of the author's lesser-known works, and is the third Branagh-directed Christie adaptation. Following the release of his first Poirot movie, 2017's Murder on the Orient Express, Branagh told the Associated Press that he saw potential for a Christie cinematic universe of sorts.

“I think there are possibilities, aren’t there? With 66 books and short stories and plays, she—and she often brings people together in her own books actually, so innately—she enjoyed that,” he said. “You feel as though there is a world—just like with Dickens, there’s a complete world that she’s created—certain kinds of characters who live in her world—that I think has real possibilities.”

Like many of Christie's stories, A Haunting in Venice is a locked-room mystery with plenty of twists and turns. But in the end, Poirot, as per usual, manages to come up with all the answers.

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How does A Haunting in Venice end?

(L-R): Rowan Robinson as Alicia Drake and Kelly Reilly as Rowena Drake in A Haunting in Venice20th Century Studios

Hosted by renowned opera singer Rowena Drake (Kelly Reilly) at her rumored-to-be-haunted palazzo, the séance that Poirot attends is touted by Ariadne as Rowena's attempt to contact her deceased daughter Alicia (Rowan Robinson), who died under mysterious circumstances.

Rowena has hired famed medium Joyce Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh) to conduct the ceremony, and Ariadne, whose past three books have flopped, wants a front-row seat to the action to get some new material for her writing. Ever the skeptic, Poirot doesn't believe in mediums but agrees to tag along to prove Mrs. Reynolds is a fraud.

Poirot wastes no time sussing out how Mrs. Reynolds uses two assistants, sibling duo Desdemona and Nicholas (Emma Laird and Ali Khan), to fake making contact with the dead. But after the supposed psychic is thrown from a balcony and impaled by a statue, the whodunit truly gets underway. As a storm rages outside, Poirot locks everyone in attendance—Ariadne, Rowena, Alicia's estranged former fiancé Maxime (Kyle Allen), housekeeper Olga (Camille Cottin), Drake family doctor Leslie Ferrier (Jamie Dornan), Dr. Ferrier's son Leopold (Jude Hill), Desdemona and Nicholas, and Poirot's bodyguard (Riccardo Scamarcio)—inside the estate as he goes full sleuth mode.

Following an attempt on Poirot's life, some seemingly ghostly sightings, and the death of Dr. Ferrier, Poirot ultimately manages to put all the pieces of the puzzle together.

First, after realizing that his bodyguard hadn't allowed a single soul to disturb his peace in months prior to Ariadne's arrival earlier that day, he deduces that Ariadne paid the guard off in order to draw Poirot out of retirement. Ariadne admits to wanting to base her next book on a case that she thought would stump him and to inviting Maxine to the séance to stir up drama, but denies being involved in any of the murders.

Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot in A Haunting in VeniceRob Youngson—20th Century Studios

As it turns out, the killer among them is actually Rowena. While it was widely believed that Alicia Drake committed suicide after going mad and jumping from her bedroom balcony into the canal below, it's revealed that, after ruining Alicia's relationship with Maxine, Rowena began slowly poisoning her daughter using honey from a toxic flower she grew in the palazzo's garden to keep Alicia close. One of the side effects of that particular poison was hallucinations, which Poirot also experienced after drinking some tea that Ariadne had unknowingly sweetened with the toxic honey.

On the night Alicia died, Olga was watching over her while Rowena got some sleep. When Alicia woke in a fit of madness, Olga fed her some tea to calm her, unaware it was poisoned, and accidentally gave her a lethal dose of the honey. When Rowena found her daughter dead in bed later that night, she panicked and threw her body off the balcony so no one would find out what she had done. Poirot's bodyguard, a former police officer, was the one who pulled Alicia's body from the water, allowing him to provide Ariadne with details about the case that only someone who was there could have known. Ariadne, in turn, fed those details to Mrs. Reynolds.

Dr. Ferrier, whose ability to practice medicine was greatly reduced by PTSD from the war, was the one to examine the body and concluded that nothing was out of the ordinary. However, after reading his father's notes, Leopold realized something was amiss and began blackmailing Rowena for money since his mentally unwell father was mostly unable to work.

Rowena initially thought the blackmailer was Mrs. Reynolds and decided to take care of her by pushing her off the balcony, but later realized she was wrong. Her suspicions then moved to Dr. Ferrier, who she convinced to stab himself in a way that made it look like he was murdered by threatening to kill his son if he didn't do as he was told. She did this while Ferrier was locked inside a soundproof room that Poirot held the only key to, planning to frame the detective for the murder.

After her crimes are exposed, Rowena attempts to flee and Poirot chases her to Alicia's bedroom where she falls from the balcony as a flash of what appears to be Alicia's ghost appears behind her. It's left ambiguous whether the ghost was real or just another hallucination brought on by the poison tea.

How is the movie different from the book?

Michelle Yeoh as Mrs. Reynolds in A Haunting in Venice20th Century Studios

One difference between A Haunting in Venice and Hallowe’en Party is that the movie is set, as its title implies, in Venice, while the book takes place in the London suburb of Woodleigh Common.

The novel also doesn't rely on the possibility of any supernatural elements to ratchet up the mystery. In fact, Hallowe’en Party doesn't even include a séance.

In the book, Poirot is summoned to a Halloween party at an English estate by his friend Ariadne, but the author's intentions are pure. At the party, a 13-year-old girl named Joyce Reynolds is found dead in an apple-bobbing bucket after claiming that she once witnessed a murder at the house—and it's up to Poirot to unravel what happened.

When asked about the decisive differences between the book and the movie, CEO of the Agatha Christie estate and executive producer James Pritchard told The Direct that the creative team behind the Poirot franchise wanted to give viewers something new.

“We had done two very faithful adaptations of two pretty famous, pretty big books," he said. "[We] felt that we should maybe surprise our audience with this and try something a little bit different."

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Write to Megan McCluskey at megan.mccluskey@time.com